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The Guildhall, Lavenham

Alec Betterton explains how a timber-framed hall opens a window onto the piety and economics of a Suffolk market town in the 1520s.

Lavenham in Suffolk is much visited and celebrated as one of the most picturesque villages in the country. Historically it was a busy, thriving and for many years a prosperous medieval and Tudor town. From 1257 until the late eighteenth century it boasted a thriving market and fair and for much of its life was an industrial centre, first of medieval and Tudor woollen cloth manufacture and by the nineteenth century of replacement, weaving-based industries housed in factories. Its famed and magnificent church and its wealth of ancient, high-grade timber- framed buildings reflect the high point of the town's prosperity during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII.

The Muster Roll of 1522 and the returns to the great Lay Subsidy of 1524 offer detailed insight into the wealth and occupations of Lavenham's Tudor citizens. In his Local History in England (1972), the late Professor W.G. Hoskins constructed a table ranking provincial towns according to their total contributions to the Subsidy. This revealed that Lavenham in the 1520s, when the Guildhall was built, ranked fourteenth richest in the land.

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